Alex Killorn and the Tampa Bay Lightning are not ready to break up the band just yet, as Killorn resigned on Sunday for seven years at total of $31.15 million dollars ($4.45 million dollar a year average), allowing both parties to avoid arbitration. Killorn now joins Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy all of whom resigned in a busy offseason for the Tampa Lightning. Tampa is locking up many of their core young pieces with long-term extensions in hopes of being a perennial contender for years to come as they chase the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Killorn is a vital piece for the Lightning’s future by providing size to their forwards along with bringing proven playoff track record as he already has 33 points in 47 playoff games in his young career. The good news is Killorn’s cap friendly number of under $4.5 million per year will allow the Lightning the flexibility to retain more of their core talent as the organization creeps closer to $72.6 million salary cap ceiling. The bad news is with only about $8.5 million dollars in cap space left, the team will have to make some difficult choices with many players fans have grown to love roster due to these new extensions. Let’s take a look at some potential Lightning pieces and assign a (made up %) about how likely they’ll be a member of the club next offseason:
Ben Bishop: Arguably one of the top 3 goalies in the entire league, anchor in net and fan favorite.
Contract situation: At 29 years old he is now in the last year of his deal where he is set to make $5.95 million, and will likely seek a new contract in the $7.5-$9.5 million a year range if he were to hit the unrestricted Free Agent after this season.
Percentage he’s with the Lightning in 2017 season: 0-5%. Bishop was a hot trade rumor during the NHL entry draft as he nearly got sent to the Calgary Flames on draft day, until a contract extension could not be agreed upon preventing a deal from occurring. Now with the re-signing of Andrei Vasilevskiy, the team appears confident in risking their goaltending future on the promising youngster, instead of the proven pricier veteran. The question now will be not if Bishop stays with Tampa but for “how long”. Will they keep him until the trade deadline as they try to get maximum value for him while also easing Vasilevskiy into the starter’s role or will they move him before the season starts to a playoff contender like the Dallas Stars in need of a legitimate star goalie. Moving Bishop would free up an extra $6 million dollars they can then use to keep other talent coming up for new contracts.
Nikita Kucherov: Talented young right-wing superstar in the making, who carried the Lightning’s playoff scoring load while Steven Stamkos was out with an injury.
Contract situation: At 22, Kucherov has finished his initial rookie contract and is now a Restricted Free Agent (RFA), looking to get his first real pay-day as a young star coming into his own. He’ll likely command a salary in the $6-7 million dollar a year range similar to the 6-year/$36 million dollar deal Filip Forsberg signed with Nashville recently as he compares very similarly to Kucherov.
Percentage he’s with the Lightning in 2017 season: 95-100%. Kucherov is the second most important offensive player on the Tampa Bay Lightning, demonstrated by last year’s playoff performance where he became a dynamic goal scoring machine. There is little doubt the organization is making his retention a top priority now that Hedman and Stamkos’s contract extensions are complete. They have the cap space now to resign him to a good and fair extension, and all signs point to them getting a deal done soon.
Jonathan Drouin: The dynamic young forward who appears close to fulfilling his potential as a lottery pick, but has a legitimate public mess in his past, with the organization last season.
Contract situation: Drouin’s entering the last year of his rookie contract where he will make $832,500 before becoming a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in the 2017-2018 season.
Percentage he’s with the Lightning in 2017 season: 50%. Drouin is obviously a talented young player who has barely scratched the surface of his potential. The team appears to have patched their relationship up after their mid-season issues. This led the way to Drouin’s fantastic playoff run last year. However, only Drouin and the organization truly know if their issues from last season are over. They both could have put on a good face until they can find a better time to part ways. If Drouin’s contract demands are reasonable ($3.5-$4.5 million range) and he truly wants to stay in Tampa, I do not think there is a way they let him walk away. However, if there is too much bad blood, there is a good chance Drouin gets moved before the trade deadline when his value could bring a huge return in assets.
Tyler Johnson: The young forward has flashed elite skills at times but injury concerns and a potential big salary increase make his future with the team beyond this year uncertain.
Contract situation: Johnson enters the last year of his contract where he is set to make $4 million dollars before becoming a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in the 2017-2018 season.
Percentage he’s with the Lightning in 2017 season: 50%. What a difference a year makes, as at this time last year if you’d asked Lightning fans whether or not the team should extend Johnson long-term, the answer would have been a resounding yes. Unfortunately, after nearly scoring 30 goals in 2014, Tyler saw his stats regress to only 14 goals in 69 games, and had a season marred by an early season injury that appeared to prevent him from ever really getting back to his old self all season long. Now the team must face one of their tougher cap decisions, with Johnson being at the center of it. Johnson’s play this upcoming season, along with what trading him may bring in return will largely be the main factors in his future with the team past this season. Should Johnson return to form like he did two seasons ago, the team will likely try to find room to extend him long-term. However, if Johnson struggles again, gets hurt, or has contract demands in the range of his linemate Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning will likely have to consider letting him walk or moving him for draft picks. Moving on from Johnson will allow them to keep other young talent like Drouin and Slater Koekkoek long-term.
Ondrej Palat: Left-winger of the vaunted ‘Triplets Line’, Palat is a quality forward whose numbers may not overwhelm but his play is consistent.
Contract situation: The 25-year-old is entering the last year of his deal making $4 million dollars, and will becoming a Restricted Free Agent at the end of this season. Depending upon his performance he will likely command a $5-$6 million dollar contract to keep him long-term.
Percentage he’s with the Lightning in 2017 season: 30%. Palat is a vital piece to the Lightning and being only 25 years old, he is just entering the start of his prime as a professional hockey player. Unfortunately, the market for forwards and his likely contract demands will force Tampa to have to move him or let him walk away when he becomes a restricted free agent after this season. His production is good but it has also declined in back to back seasons, and for a team loaded with possible 20 goal scorers; paying $5 million plus to a who has only scored 16 goal in two straight seasons will likely prove too difficult to justify. The decision to keep Palat, could be even harder if it costs the team the ability to keep a player like Drouin. There is always a chance Palat takes a hometown discount but it seems he could end up being one of the odd men out when it comes time to extend players long-term.
Note: The % estimates are made up #’s taking into account salary cap hit vs cap space, future production, and perceived importance to the team’s success.
*All statistics compiled from hockey-reference.com and all salary and salary-cap related information compiled from spotrac.com
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